Irish's new mantra: 'Count on me'

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- For T.J. Jones, "count on me" means watching more film. For Jonas Gray, it means everyone is in it together. For Manti Te'o, it extends to off the football field.

Notre Dame's latest rallying cry, started last week by coach Brian Kelly, has been shouted after each team breakdown. It serves as one more reminder of everyone's purpose as the home stretch of a taxing season approaches. Most of all, it shores up any potential loose ends in wake of tough losses or off-the-field controversy.

"I think sometimes, especially the way things are going during the season, there's a lot of different things going on, you can kind of lose place of what really matters and what really helps you win," captain Harrison Smith said. "So I think that reminder is good for the team, just to focus on what's really important."

Kelly instituted the phrase last Tuesday following the Irish's loss to USC. Following Kelly's controversial marks Thursday and a clear-the-air meeting Friday, players said the phrase before Saturday's win over Navy, and they have tried to carry it since to tasks as seemingly minute as taking care of their locker room.

With the Irish losing three games largely in part to a combined 13 turnovers, any lapse in focus could be crucial.

"Maybe I'm wrong," Gray said, "but I think picking up the locker room, all the small things like that, has a lot to do with paying attention to detail. When it comes to mentally in the game turning the ball over, small things like that, I think that all plays a part for sure."

Gray said some players even vacuum the locker room -- just not him.

"I assign who vacuums," he joked of his duties. "That's what I do."

Such routines, he added, can be taken for granted late in the season, and many of the upperclassmen wanted to assume more of a leadership mantle rather than have their coaches do all of the yelling and instructing.

Smith said repeating the phrase emphasizes each individual's responsibility.

Te'o said, above all else, it means accountability.

"I think for me, that saying just means to do be accountable; to do things right and to have your teammates know that he's a guy that does things right and he's a guy that I can trust and he's a guy that I can go to, and basically that I can count on him," the junior linebacker said. "I can count on him in the game and I can count on him to help me if I have any social problems, problems in school."

Added Jones: "The season hasn't gone as we thought it would've went. And the big thing now with the second half of the season is just being accountable and coming through and finishing strong and trying to win out."